Usually when I see an artist (particularly student artists) working with collage I can’t quite shake off the feeling that they’re being lazy.
I’m sure this stems from far too many camp collaging experiences where we just smothered the covers of our journals with chopped up magazines and modge podge, and I also have the nagging feeling that it’s because many of my peers actually are being lazy (I’ve seen far too many half-baked collages thrown together hours before a critique). Collage always struck me as something that may turn out looking wonderful but often lacking in meaning and depth. Appropriating the work of others as the only means of expression in your artwork feels too similar to so many Tumblrs with collage acting as the art world’s reblogging feature.
So when I see Martha Rosler’s work I’m always pleasantly surprised. It goes against all of my preconceived notions about collage (which I’m working on. Sorry to all of those out there who love collage, I’m sure your work is wonderful!). Her work has an emotional value that it might not have in any other medium. By using pre made images Rosler is manipulating the work of popular society into a form of social activism. For example, in her most well known series, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, Rosler appropriates images found in homemaking women’s magazines of the period and juxtaposes them with violent imagery from the Vietnam war.
We see happy American families enjoying suburban bliss as bloodshed and chaos occur in the background or foreground. Even as violence occurs directly in front of the subject they smile with happy naivety.
Interestingly, Rosler has reprised this body of work, applying the same method of juxtaposition to images from current American women and lifestyle magazines and the war in Iraq. Some critics feel that this shows a lack of imagination and innovation on Rosler’s part, but others (including myself) find it interesting that Rosler is examining today’s events and today’s media imagery with the same eye as in the late 60’s and early 7o’s. The similarities between the two series of images is uncanny. The two bodies of work seem to meld together, and barring the advances in technology could be part of the same set of work.